Update 2/21/2013: I’ve just installed the February 20, 2013, build. Pretty much the same experience although the interface feels slicker.
My poor Dell Mini 9 has had more operating systems installed on it then is probably good for it. It arrived with Ubuntu 10 four years ago. It has run every Ubuntu release since then as well as Windows XP and Windows 7, often dual booting between one of the former and one of the latter. I recently upgraded to a larger laptop but am loathe to get rid of the Mini 9. It’s a work horse and is still a powerful little netbook, particularly if I stay on a lightweight (non-bloated) OS like Ubuntu.
I decided I would see if I could run Google’s Chromium operating system on it. I am a heavy cloud user and also spend nearly all my online time in Chrome, Google’s Web browser. In fact, from what I can tell, I’m the ideal candidate for using Chromium, which synchronizes with my Chrome settings and bookmarks and leverages Linux knowledge.
The first steps were to grab a Chromium image. You can try them out from a number of sources but the ones that kept coming up were Hexxeh’s Vanilla and Lime images and Dell’s own images for the Mini 9 and 10. I ended up choosing the Dell image for December 2011 – they have more recent ones – after trying one of the Lime images. I hit an initial obstacle in that I didn’t have wireless active within Chromium and I wasn’t going to use the netbook on a strictly wired basis. I found some tips that suggested older builds might be better so that’s why I went with the December version.
In fact, I probably didn’t need to but there you go. I downloaded the file and followed the instructions to extract the .img file to my hard drive. You can do this on either Windows or Ubuntu and there are lots of how tos available so I won’t belabor this step. In essence, you are going to save the .img file to a large USB drive, wiping out everything else on that drive, so that you can boot from the USB and run Chromium.
Note, you can run Chromium without installing it. You can log in with your Google username and password and experience Chromium. When you restart your computer without the USB drive in it, you will see whatever operating system was there before.
I booted up using the USB and, as with the Hexxeh build, got the Chromium start screen but without wireless support. I plugged in my Ethernet cable and was able to continue. It then prompted me for my Google username and password and – because I use two-step authentication – my verification code.
Now I could utilize the other information I’d gathered along the way. The first was to install Chromium so that it would start up without a USB drive. To do this I hit CTRL-ALT-T which took me to a strange command prompt – the screen goes black except for this prompt crosh>. Type install and hit Enter. It may prompt you for a password. I tried both of the ones that I have seen – facepunch and dell1234 and the latter one worked – and Chromium’s installation proceeded.
It is dumping the image contents from the USB drive onto your hard drive. It is wiping everything else on your hard drive out so be sure this is what you intend. When it is finished, as the installation script itself says, pull out the USB key, cross your fingers, and restart.
My system started right back up. The first start – whether with the USB or just after installation – takes nearly 2 minutes. This is a one-time occurrence. I logged in again as before. This time, though, I was going to activate the wireless drivers.
Hit CTRL-ALT-T to get to the crosh> prompt. Now type shell and hit Enter. The prompt will change to a more familiar Linux prompt. Now you can run the command to install the wireless drivers: sudo /etc/install_wl.sh and hit Enter. If you are prompted for a password, it is the same one as the one you used to install Chromium (facepunch, dell1234, or whatever). If you are not familiar with sudo, it is the power user’s account for Linux and allows you to do things you might not otherwise be allowed to (or want to) do. Windows 7 users will be familiar with it as the Administrator’s account.
Your wireless network should now be active. Click on the little Ethernet logo on the top right corner of your Chromium screen and you should now see your wireless network listed there. Click on it and you’re ready to go.
Once I’d connected to wireless, I unplugged from my wired Ethernet and started to customize. The first thing I did was to set up my synchronization with my Google account and it immediately downloaded the theme I was using, my bookmarks, my Chrome extensions and other items from the Webstore, recent browsing history, the whole kit and caboodle.
The only thing I couldn’t figure out was how to shut down! Ha! I closed all the tabs, and the Web browser Chrome would normally shut at that point. Not Chromium. All of that folderol is now under what is normally your Options menu (the small wrench): shut down is at the bottom. I restarted with wireless and my account synchronized to make sure everything was working.
This time the reboot took 16 seconds, contrasted with that first 120 seconds. In fact, it’s the fastest boot up I’ve ever had, even with Ubuntu. I’m not ready to suggest this is better than Ubuntu but it’s certainly a positive when the whole point of this machine is going to be quick access to the Internet. I’m looking forward to playing around with it more and, as more of the Google applications get offline options, to add those in.